In our tenth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Kyleen Downes. She is a gifted songwriter, singer, guitarist, pianist and ukulele player. We want to publicly thank Kyleen for taking the time out of her schedule to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!
Kyleen have been making some of the most open and energetic yet introspective music in the Dayton Music Scene. She has a clever way with words that inspires listeners while not feeling calculated to produce a particular feeling. Kyleen is able to turn a phrase in a way that is direct and welcoming. Her insightfulness allows a listener to see themselves and their experiences cast with an unfailing honest optimism and generosity of spirit that opens the heart.
Kyleen has been making music since 2009 when she took inspiration from the social bond of those involved in the Dayton music community. This sense of attachment and commitment led to 2016’s ‘Maybe Sometimes.’ This first collection of songs from Kyleen demonstrate her range as both a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. The seven songs on this album stretch across a continuum of personal reflection (‘Things Change‘) to the accessible optimism of finding those splendid moments with those you care about (‘Perfect Ending‘) and the percussive staccato of ‘Talk Like You Don’t Know‘.
Kyleen’s next record in 2018 was the enthusiastic ‘Friends‘ EP. Kicking off with the driving ‘Exhale‘ and then flowing into the rocker ‘And So It Goes.’ An excellent One-Two punch. The upbeat attitude on ‘Goes‘ pulls one into a happy space. The next two songs, the confessional ‘Six Years‘ and imaginative ‘In Dreams‘, showcase creative guitar work and inventive lyrics. The album demonstrates her humor and continuing evolution as a songwriter. ‘Friends‘ marks Kyleen’s collaboration with producer extraordinaire Patrick Himes. Himes’ analog approach to recording allows the songwriting to stand on its own in a way that digital recording all too often interferes with. Instead of approaching recording the music in an overly serious manner or in a heavy handed way, Downes and Himes establish an accessible palette that still explores deep and real emotion. The delightfulness of the album is a strength. The partnership with Himes will lead her to the most recent album ‘Come On Sit Down.’
Come On Sit Down opens with the community jam ‘Give Up The Ghost.’ The handclaps and percussion drive this sing along! The next song, the single, ‘Last Drop‘ demonstrates the strength of Kyleen and her band. They can move across genres, styles and arrangements surprisingly easily without feeling contrived. Authenticity is a rare pleasure in popular music. Kyleen’s background in music and as a guitar teacher/instructor are consistently illustrated on this record. The background vocals from a Dayton Power trio of vocalists — Khrys Blank, Amber Hargett and Heather Redman elevate ‘Last Drop‘ into a remarkably evocative ending. ‘All My Life‘ leads the record into personal reflection which is then followed by the poppy ‘Keep Your Ways.’ ‘Tiny Little Table‘ courses with an electricity and humor that are distinctive to Kyleen Downes. The album closes with the meditation on thankfulness of ‘In The Dark.’ Consistently, Kyleen’s lyrics are descriptive, accessible and deeply affecting. If you have had the opportunity to see her perform, you know that Kyleen’s stage presence is charismatic.
Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album Come On Sit Down?
Kyleen Downes (KD): I had written a few new songs in 2018 and started working on them with the band. I booked some studio time in November of 2018 and unfortunately, the band hadn’t had enough rehearsal prior to going into the studio.
I went to the studio solo and brought in two low-key songs, In the Dark and All My Life. I had initially thought of releasing a few singles but once the band started recording in 2019, the song list began to grow. So I figured I’d hold out and do a big sha-bang of a full length LP to be released on vinyl (a first for me!) I really liked the idea of combining songs I worked on with the band, with the songs that I fleshed out in the studio with just myself and my producer Patrick Himes.
Dr. J: You worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio, what led to your recording with Patrick?
KD: Patrick reached out to me several years ago, just to say hi and introduce himself. Which is a great example of just how cool Dayton musicians are! I knew of his work through Paige Beller when he worked on her live album, Live and a Person. After seeing her show and hearing that recording, I knew once I had material to record I wanted to work with him. It’s an added bonus that he records analog, or to tape, because that was a new experience I wanted to try!
Dr. J: ‘Myself’ is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song is compelling and driving musically. Yet the lyrics seem to address loneliness. Did you set out to address the concerns and challenges of human connection when starting to work on that song?
KD: I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this question, it’s almost like you knew my state of mind when I wrote it! I was spending a lot of time by myself and with my thoughts. Even after spending time with others I was coming home to just me. I had recently gone through a very challenging separation after a long relationship. I was desperately trying to find security within myself, because I was realizing how it can be unhealthy to have it only come from someone else.
Dr. J: All My Life also addresses other connection – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address connection, love, and relationships or did the song evolve in that direction over time?
KD: That song came out of strumming chords in waltz time, which I wonder if that made me feel a certain sweetness about it when the lyrics started to flow. It’s definitely rooted in the sense of connection you feel when you realize you’ve longed for a certain feeling all your life and now that you have it, you must not take it for granted.
Dr. J: How did Myself come together musically for you?
KD: Funny enough, it came to life after opening my front door and hearing a melodic squeak from the hinge. I hummed it and went down to my basement to harmonize it on the guitar. Then I let the lyrics flow. I was so caught up in this song, I wrote some of it while sitting in my personal finance class, haha! The song was originally an acoustic song, but when I was prepping to take it into the studio, I really wanted to play around with amping it up. I started by playing it on the electric guitar and then adding some guitar parts. I heard a song on the radio one day and used that for my drum inspiration. I’ll be honest, it still feels like a puzzle to me, so I’m really happy to hear it resonates with you!
Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?
KD: Through listening to music. As a kid, I loved singing a catchy song or letting music transport my daydreams. Then once I started playing guitar, the sound of it inspired me to create different musical ideas. So often, I will come up with an idea after or while listening to music. If I connect with the vibe, I like to channel my own version of it. And undoubtedly if there is a guitar in my hands, I end up playing something that catches my ear and I want to start fleshing it out (which can sometimes lead to late bedtimes, ha ha!)
Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Friends to Come On Sit Down)?
KD: I describe my music as sonically approachable. As I’ve progressed, I’m getting more comfortable with taking risks and I feel/hope my music has become a little more candid since the beginning of my journey.
Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Come On Sit Down?
KD: I have several thoughts on future projects BUT I know I need to focus on the material first. There are several songs I am excited to finish. I think once the music comes to life, the projects will reveal themselves more clearly. I’ve also lost a few songs along the way because they get pushed aside once a project starts. I plan on finding them though! (They may have fallen under my couch, who knows!?)
Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
KD: I LOVE performing Tiny Little Table, it has SO much fun guitar stuff. I have a looper pedal which allows me to layer different guitar riffs and solo. I use my looper to harmonize vocals as well, which is a new skill for me. When I am playing with my band, Six Years will forever energize and empower me!
Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?
KD: We are all human and we are only human.
Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?
KD: I’ve taken this forced downtime to put effort into my website, creating a virtual store, and performing some livestream shows. I’ve learned a lot about the different technology available that can help me be more creative and produce new content. I’ve also been maintaining a consistent newsletter. I used to get so overwhelmed about writing a newsletter, but now I’m so happy about being able to engage with people, it’s become a fun part of my month!
You can follow Kyleen Downes on various social media including:
Facebook Twitter at @KyleenDownes Instagram at KyleenDownes
We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kyleen for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Kyleen’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos and images courtesy of Kyleen Downes and Gary Mitchell.